I am Gene Witte and have been involved with the SWCD for a number of years, first as a board member, than as chairman, and now as associate supervisor. I wanted to share some of my farming career history (have the grey) along with what motivated me down the path to cover crops, no-till, strip-till, and nutrient management.
I must have been born with the fever. Antique tractor collectors have what is called classic tractor fever. I have the fever called “CCNTSTNM” see above. This comes from acronyms that SWCD, NRCS, and FSA like to use. There is no cure for this fever. It keeps evolving and changing and it doesn’t hurt.
As a youngster I would ride the tractor with my uncle as long as he would let me. This was an open station tractor and I had to stand and hang onto the fender. We always picked ear corn back than and I would hurry home from school to help shovel it off the flat bed wagon. Then my uncle got a hopper wagon and he was a modern farmer. By the age of 12 I had 3 sows and finished the pigs to market. I would take the tractor and two wheeled trailer loaded with ear corn to the elevator to get feed ground. The reason I talk about ear corn is, the corn cob that was left after the elevator had shelled off the corn was a problem for them to get rid of. During the summers I would get as many of them as I could and haul them back to the field and put them on clay nobs. I tell this story because even back than I had the fever to make the soil better and more productive.
Right out of high school I started farming my parent’s farm and rented two additional farms. Fall mold board plowing was the accepted practice back in 1974. In 1979 I bought a Glencoe Soil Saver and started chiseling corn stalks and not plowing them. This was a big conservation move as the field looked dirty and not clean. Farmers used to pride themselves on how clean their plowed fields were. By 1981 I parked my mold board plow and also chiseled my wheat stubble fields. Because I’ve always raised livestock I’ve always had a crop rotation with manure involved. After wheat harvest the hog pits were emptied and a cover crop of cereal rye was planted. This was in the mid to late 70’s and would always spring mold board plow or chisel this cover crop in the spring and plant corn. Keep in mind that at that time my planter was a New Idea Uni System with a tool carrier and John Deere 71 series planter units. This was still a shoe opener type planter which did not do well in high residue situations. The fever is getting worse by now.
In 1983 I purchased a new planter. It was a New Idea double frame planter with Kinze planter units that had 6 x 30 inch rows and 5 interplant rows to make 15 inch rows. It was equipped with cast iron closing wheels and heavy duty down pressure springs, and double disk openers, no-till coulters and notched marker blades. I was a modern farmer. That spring I no-tilled beans into standing corn stalks. Along about that time crop rotation was changing to more of a corn and bean rotation. Having had success with no-till beans I tried no-till corn after the bean crop. This had its challenges. After making changes to starter fertilizer placement with a Rawson coulter system and changing the nutrient mix ie adding more nitrogen, no-till corn worked a little better. In 1993 I purchased a Tye Para-Till to help warm up and dry the soil a little quicker in the spring. This helped on ground that did not have adequate tile drainage. It shattered and lifted the soil without inverting the top soil. This improved corn production but also took time and horse power to do. This was not no-till but it kept crop residue on the surface and met NRCS standards for conservation compliance of 40% residue cover after planting. I was a modern farmer.
In 2006 I purchased my next new planter. It was a Kinze 3650 that planted 12 thirty inch rows or 24 fifteen inch rows. It was equipped with an easier to adjust system for changing down pressure on the row units. This made a tedious job with wrenches much faster. I did away with the no-till coulters as they were no longer necessary. The big improvement was putting spading closing wheels with drag chains on the back of each unit. For no-till corn production this was a huge improvement over rubber tire closing wheels or cast iron closing wheels. I could also use this planter to plant all my crops, from corn to beans to wheat to cover crops of cereal rye or annual rye grass. In 2007 I added a Remlinger 6 row strip tiller. This tool took the place of the Tye Para Till. It was faster and took less horse power to pull. The principle was still the same in that it worked a narrow band of soil to help warm up and dry out the soil for corn planting. Most of the surface was undisturbed and held crop residue. Most of the equipment changes I made over the years were to help increase corn yields. I did not mention soybeans much because they were always the easy crop to no-till, but I also got better yields. Whether it was from better soil structure or increased timeliness I don’t know. I was a modern farmer.
The fever is getting worse. The nutrient management bug hit pretty hard by 1998. The first program that was introduced to me was a grind sampling system done on either 2.5 or 5 acres pieces. These samples were gps referenced so that prescription maps could be made to apply nutrients to specific parts of the field where they were needed the most. Phosphorous, potash, and lime are surface applied this way in a no-till system. I also added a yield monitor to the combine in 1998. This yield information could be used to help identify nutrient removal by the crop in gps referenced areas of the field. This way of fertility management was promoted as a way to change the fertility levels in low testing areas of the field and make them more productive to match the higher producing areas. Now eight years later thinking has changed a little. I moved away from square grids and now sample by soil type with a polygon grid not representing more than 5 acres. I now realize that certain soils can’t hold on to a lot of fertilizer due to their properties ie cec, organic matter, calcium to magnesium ratio and micro nutrients. I may spread every year instead of fertilizing for two crops in one year. Gypsum is also being promoted by some to increase water infiltration in no-till soils. In 2012 I purchased my own fertilizer and lime spreader. It was equipped with variable rate drive and tractor electronics so that I could apply my own nutrients from a gps prescription. All my nutrients were surface applied except for row starter applied at planting. I was a modern farmer.
I may have to get the thermometer out. In 2012 I also purchased the planter I have now. It is a John Deere 1790 16/32. I use it to plant all my crops ie corn, beans, wheat, and cover crops of either cereal rye or annual rye grass. I now can adjust row unit down pressure from the cab of the tractor. It has variable rate drive to change seeding rates on the go by prescription. It is still equipped with the spoked closing wheels with drag chains. The biggest improvement for my stress level is I don’t need markers that mark the next pass for the tractor to drive. I now have RTK and auto steer on the tractor for picture perfect rows. This was always a problem over the years when using a marker especially when planting into cover crops after dark you just couldn’t find it. My present system took most of a lifetime to evolve.
I am comfortable with the no-till system, planting into cover crops and occasionally do some strip till yet. “I AM A MODERN FARMER”.
I say this and bite my tongue. Each time I thought I was a modern farmer time proved wrong. Or time proved that science and technology could help make me a better farmer.
Currently the hot topic is dissolved reactive phosphorous getting into lakes and streams and causing algae blooms that are toxic at times. Nitrates are another issue. My hope is that science and technology will evolve and help us to manage through these problems before costly regulations are put in place.
These are my thoughts and do not reflect on the Adams County SWCD in any way.
Be careful the fever is contagious!